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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dolphins surfing for fun off the coast of South Africa

This morning a friend Murray alerted me to a wonderful sequence of dolphin photographs by Greg Huglin. Have a look at them on the Daily Telegraph here.

The caption on one of the photographs (reproduced below) states:
'He [Greg Huglin] said: "I believe they do it for fun but it may also have something to do with mating and chasing potential partners. It might also be something to do with hiding from predators - the wave sounds help mask their location'

This reminded me of an experience I had surfing with dolphins from which I have deduced categorically that Greg is correct - they often really do surf for the pure joy of it. OK, I don't have a PhD in animal behavior or any scientific evidence to back this up, but I do have some personal experience to share.

One day I was surfing with a friend at my favorite place, Natures Valley. We were floating beyond the breakers when a pod of dolphins cruising down the coast paused (that is as much as dolphins ever 'pause') to investigate us or, it seemed, to say hello. After a minute the pod moved off except for three who hung back swimming around us and playing in the waves. They'd surf a wave and then return to us as if to encourage us to do something. We did our pathetic best to comply.

We had the most incredible time surfing with them, sometimes riding next to them on the same waves -a mind-blowing experience. Then they'd race back out jumping through the waves and wait for us ungainly terrestrial creatures to labor through the surf before riding the next wave together.

For the next two days we were granted this rare privilege. At about the same time of day each day a pod would come past and three dolphins - we presume the same ones- would stay back to surf. After a few good waves they would dart off to rejoin their more graceful friends.

I'm sure dolphins sometimes surf to catch a fish or impress a mate, but I have no doubt that this was all about fun. It would be hard to have any more fun than surfing with dolphins. maybe that's why they always look like they are smiling.

Natures Valley is on the Garden Route in South Africa. The Garden Route is a beautiful section of the southeastern coastline which starts a few hours east of Cape Town.

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